NASHVILLE — Tennessee Republicans, led by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, are moving forward with a redistricting process that will shake up the state’s judicial system.
After weeks of speculation, Ramsey announced Monday the start of the judicial redistricting process, which will be the state’s first in nearly 30 years.
Joined by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, and Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, Ramsey declared the process open to all and publicly solicited input from the general public as well as stakeholders in the legal community.
“Just over a year ago, our Republican majority conducted the most open and transparent legislative redistricting process in state history,” Ramsey said. “We aim to do likewise with judicial redistricting.”
Underscoring the length of time that has transpired since the current judicial districts were set, Ramsey said that Waylon Jennings and Michael Jackson were at the top of the charts when the last redistricting process occurred.
“Tennessee is a far different place than it was in 1984,” Ramsey said. “Formerly rural counties have become thoroughly suburban and our suburban counties now confront problems similar to urban areas.”
While Ramsey and his team are soliciting input from the public, a map of proposed changes was circulated amongst the legal community last summer. That map proposed shifting Anderson County to the 8th Judicial District, which currently includes Scott, Campbell, Fentress, Claiborne and Union counties.
Tennessee currently has 31 judicial districts, which determine the area judges, district attorneys and public defenders serve. The proposal circulated last summer would reduce that number to 29.
At the same time, chief considerations are expected to be limiting counties with populations of 100,000 or more to a judicial district all their own. There are currently 12 such counties in Tennessee, up from five in 1984.
Another primary point of consideration will be eliminating single-county judicial districts that have populations of fewer than 100,000. That is the case with Anderson County, which stands alone as the 7th Judicial District and has a population of about 80,000.
State trial judges, attorneys general and public defenders are all elected to their posts. With the next 8-year term starting after elections in August 2014, the stakes are especially high during this redistricting process, which has led some critics to say that the process is being politically influenced.
Ramsey has denied such speculation, charging that some of the districts were gerrymandered when they were reconfigured in 1984 under Democratic leadership.
The 8th Judicial District is already shaping up for an unusual election, with elected incumbents in only the Circuit Court and Criminal Court. The other three district-wide judicial posts will feature appointed incumbents. Gov. Bill Haslam appointed Oneida’s Lori Phillips-Jones the district attorney general, and Huntsville’s Mark Blakley the district public defender. In the weeks ahead, Haslam will appoint either Oneida’s Jamie Cotton Jr., Patrick Sexton or Huntsville’s Andrew Tillman as the district’s Chancery Court judge.